Bliznog is moving to Skiznot.com

I decided it would be fun to have a website of my own to share different kinds of creativity on one place so I’m moving the blog there too.  The new address is Skiznot.com and it’s already up with the blog.  I won’t be doing any new posts at this site but will leave the blog up for a while.

On thing I’ll really miss is this lovely green theme that I can’t export.

Things to Add to the Resume: Composer for a Video Podcast!

Most of the big secret project is done.  I can say now that I was working on bumpers for a video podcast/show called The PC Lounge which should be up and running by next month.  “Bumpers” is actually a relatively new term for me but it basically means a little jingle type intro for the different segments of the show.  Sort of the same thing you’d see on David Letterman when he says he’s going to open the letters and Paul Schaffer starts sing “we get sacks and sacks of letters!”  It was a really fun project and I was given full liberty with only minor instructions like “high energy.”  All the fun of composing something but the longest one was 40 seconds so I didn’t have the pain of having to know where to go next in the tune because there was no next.  I also got to be a bit of an announcer in spots.  I’ve always wanted to be a disembodied voice ala Don Pardo (Wiki him kids).  The other fun part is this is for people across the country whom I’ve never met in person; more wonders of the digital world.  The hosts are Jay Emit and Stewie D from the Obscure80s podcast and I know them from calling into their voicemail line with comments and then over time more produced little bits.

For the recordings I used a controller keyboard and USB Microphone plugged into my iMac running Logic Pro (student edition because I’m not f@#$ing rich) and Garage band.  Logic pro is mostly for straight music whereas Garage Band works great for cutting and pasting different elements for something more theatrical.  Like when a death march is interrupted by a chainsaw, electric drill, and screaming.  All of these things easily export to MP3 that I can attach to email and at the speed of light folks in Cincinnati, Ohio received work from my dusty basement lab in San Francisco.  Where was this stuff 10 years ago? With Logic pro the software replaces lots and lots of hardware.  Of course if I could I’d love to have a real band that I can say “here play this,” but these days I’m not much of a “real time” musician.  Thanks Jay and Stu for the opportunity, now I can say I have worked as a composer for internet TV productions woohoo!  Add it to the list if things I can say.  The show will be posted here http://www.pennycult.com/ so stay tuned!

Why Blip.fm is superior to Pandora

Minds think alike but computers think according to code. Pandora uses a database approach to find songs it thinks you’ll like but when you like something about a song or musician it can be really tricky to quantify it into data fields or tags. Just take the term “oldies,”; clearly it’s relative. To some, oldies may only mean early 50s rock and roll but to your niece it can mean Will Smith’s early pre-acting career rap. Also Pandora seems to assume you want to hear something you’ve heard before. This is the same problem with radio stations in general. They used to have DJs that would play music that they liked whereas now it’s purely based on popularity. Of course I’m talking about commercial radio. A radio station’s main concern is that the listener does not the channel and it becomes a barrage of safe bets. I remember Tolkien describing Hobbits as wanting to hear stories where they already knew the end and that seems to be the corporate media approach. It goes something like this:

Media Executive: Don’t play something nobody has heard yet, they’ll change the station!

Minion: But what about this new song?

Media Executive: Well, let’s play it 30 times tomorrow so by the end of the day everyone will have heard it and it will be something everyone has heard before.

Media Conglomerate CEO: I like the way you think.  (end scene)

I’m reminded of a job where I sat far too close to a woman who loved to listen to the “oldies” station. Well it was kinda nice for the first few hours but by the end of the day I would swear that station had a rotation of no more than 30 songs total and 12 of them were “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. Now I like to make forays into music history and on one such excursion I found I really liked an early Rock and Roll star named Clyde McPhatter. I found him from a stray mention while doing a sociolinguistic paper on Jazz speech. So my question is: Why have I never heard of Clyde McPhatter? Even after listening to the oldies station of a co-worker for three months straight no Clyde, no Ruth Brown, and no Dominoes. Same is true for 80s stations now. You’ll get Stray Cats if you’re lucky but no Polecats or Roman Holiday. You’ll get Howard Jones but no Thomas Dolby (other than that one song). So I figured with Pandora if I like Peter Gabriel then I make a Pandora station and they will find other people that I might like and have never heard of. But alas I end up going through 8 songs without something I’ve never heard of. Also, when there’s an artist like Peter with a vast body of work, the quality you like about him can’t be easily tagged. I put in Peter and Pandora says “oh, you like him so you must like 80s music by white English speaking foreigners so you will like U2, Sting and Kate Bush.” But maybe what I like about Peter is his world music influences. Well Pandora did not play a single song that wasn’t in English on my Peter Gabriel station. Now with Blip.fm the old school Radio DJs are back. If I blip a Peter song I see a list of other people that blipped him too. I can click on any one of them and see all the songs they have blipped and I can discern weather they just like 80s pop in general or if they appreciate that more elusive evocative quality of his greater body of work. Also when I blip the song some people can give me props (basically “I like that” points) and I can go look into who they are. In fact I blipped a lesser known Thomas Dolby tune and someone re-blipped it and offered up a lesser known Thompson Twins song. Somebody got the fact that I’m going to the past for things I remember as well as things I missed. Now I can pick favorite DJs and have my own Twitter like song feed with people whose judgment I trust making the selections mixed in with my selections. Aaaah. So now when I look for more obscure oldies I can find someone who knows more than I do and actually hear “new” oldies. So much musical history is glossed over by the average oldie station and it becomes a fun but often frustration fishing expedition to find out what good stuff was out there. The internet once again puts the power of media back into the people’s hands. Whoohoo! Once again we’re allowed to enjoy both Hip Hop and Heavy Metal and those crazy kids who mix it up; We aren’t forced to pick one or the other. Once again we can like a Nelly Furtado song from her “flop” album that are musically superior to her “hits.” If we like AC/DC nobody will tell us we can also listen to Joe Williams (or Frank Sinatra if Joe is too obscure). Happy Blipping!

Why Creativity is a Porcupine on my Back

This last year has just been an increasing flood of creativity.   It has been more difficult to focus at work as a I drown in a flood of ideas that I can’t work on until I get home.  Then I try to cram in as much as I can with the rest of the day while balancing the rest of my life.  I want to do art/drawing, music, audio bits for some of my favorite podcasts, and writes scripts to name a few.  Its a good thing I don’t have a video camera because that would be one more thing I would not be doing.   The cool thing is that sharing creativity has become so much easier now.  If I were to record a song I could post it the same day on Facebook or anywhere I can post a link.  Well, better get back to it.

The Insect With a Thousand Names

 

“Look Mom!; A giant, Mosquito!”

 

“Now don’t kill ‘im, son.  That’s a Mosquito Hawk and he eats mosquitoes.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Near on 20 years later and there’s a plague on my house and someone tells me:  “A plague of what?  No, that’s not Mosquito Hawk; a Mosquito Hawk is a Dragon Fly, that’s a Mosquito Dragon.”

 

What is that thing?

 

It’s a story of mistaken identity and misdirection that belongs on Dateline.  Just to get it straight from the start; they’re called Crane Flies or insects in the Tipulidae family.  I would include a picture but they are not nice close up.  So, I asked someone who grew up in India what they were called and she said they were Daddy Long Legs.  And I sputtered “What? No way! A Daddy Long Legs is a spider!  I of course was being an ass as later I asked someone from the UK what she called them and she said she learned to call them Mosquito Eaters but then with a near apologetic tone said she grew up calling them Daddy Long Legs.  So now I had: Mosquito Hawk, Mosquito Dragon, Mosquito Eaters and Daddy Long Legs.  Last night I’m in Second Life listening to a live podcast feed and I ask a few other listeners what they’re called.  It takes a while to convince them I’m not talking about Dragon Flies but then someone says: “I think they’re called May Flies.”  Finally someone had the most common name (according to Wiki although I’d never heard it before) Crane Flies.

 

They don’t eat Mosquitoes.

 

This is a misconception because people also call Dragon Flies Mosquito Hawks and Dragon Flies do eat Mosquito’s.

 

And now, a list of Names of my Creepy but harmless home invaders:

 

-Mosquito Hawks

            -can also refer to Dragon Flies

            -can also refer to Damsel Flies

-Mosquito Dragons

-Mosquito Eaters

-Skeeter Eaters

-Daddy Long Legs

            -can also refer to the namesake Spider.

-Gallinipper

-Gollywhopper

-Texas Mosquitoes (mmmhm)

-Jimmy Spinner

 

What do you call ’em?

The Truth about Debbie Gibson and Tiffany (fiction)

Unfortunately, everything you know about Debbie Gibson and Tiffany is part of a cover up meant to protect the innocent. Here’s the real story:

In the mid 1980s I was part of a special Regan administration task force to fight trans-dimensional alien invasions in Jr. High and High Schools across the US; sort of a Men In Black Jump Street.  So my task force was battling trans-dimensional creatures that had an appendage that extended into our world and attached themselves to the wrists of unsuspecting kids in the 80s thereby feeding on their intellect. This appendage became known as the slap bracelet. By 1987 we were successfully countering the Slap bracelet aliens with “Operation: Friendship Bracelet” but we began to run low on funds.  As a means of raising money fo the operation, I began writing and recording music under the pen name Debbie Gibson (my voice hadn’t changed yet). When It became clear that we needed a public face, team member Jenny Schwartz agreed to act as Debbie Gibson for videos and public performances.  With their backs against the wall, the Slap Bracelet aliens countered by creating a shape sifting fungal creature with a dangerous PR machine that became known as,  you guessed it, Tiffany.  By then it was too late for them, however, and the Slap Bracelet aliens dwindled in numbers and eventually chose to seek greener pastures elsewhere.  Although the campaign was a success, it wasn’t without casualties. Jenny Schwartz began to truly believe she was Debbie Gibson and still does to this day. As for the shape shifting fungal creature, although it does have a short life span in terms of fame, it has been know to spawn other creatures; the first occurrence as documented by the Obscure 80s Podcast was when the Tiffany fungoid spawned an entity known as New Kids on the Block. Every few years a new fungoid progeny of the Tiffany creature surfaces on the pop scene; The Spice Girls, Rico Suave etc. , but they have been determined to be relatively harmless. The biggest threat from these creatures came in recent years when several of them combined to form a creature of pure terror called James Blunt, but as usual, it’s power soon dissipated.

I tell you this not to get credit as being the real Debbie Gibson but to acknowledge the sacrifice of agent Jenny Schwartz in service of her country and planet. If you see agent Jenny, please play along with her delusion and refer to her as Deborah Gibson.

Thank you 80s Nation and be safe.

Guardian Angels 30 Years Later.

Is this 1979? Am I on the New York Subway? No. I’m walking down Mission Street somewhere between 24th and 20th and I see the white t-shirts and red berets of the Guardian Angels strutting confidently single file and weaving through pedestrian traffic. I found it interesting that a two of them, one man, one woman, looked to be in their early 60s. On the corner of the next block I saw at least 4 more. In my 9 years living in San Francisco, I have never seen a Guardian Angel. Have they always been around in areas I don’t frequent or is this just a reaction to the growing crime rate? I wonder about the effectiveness of a group walking the streets with a uniform publically declaring that they’re not gonna put up with any shenanigans. Back in the day, Ed Koch was opposed to the idea but the fact that they were unarmed seemed to save them. I guess I don’t know enough so I’m somewhere between admiration and suspicion. I always support anyone who can stand up to thugary but I’m curious if there is any kind of screening process to separate those who are willing to fight from those who are “itching” to fight.

In my personal experience, I have seen direct effects of the bad economy. The first 6 years I lived in San Francisco from 2000, I felt pretty safe. But then I had a car broken into then saw a purse snatching attempt in the BART station and a more brazen and a bit violent purse snatching right on the bus in front of security cameras. Thinking back on the purse snatching, I can’t help feel that I could have done something. I know that in retrospect time slows down and there was lots of confusion but still I don’t know if I froze or didn’t have any time to react. At first it just looked like a guy lost his footing and fell against this young woman but when he got up he had her purse and she tried to grab it back. Someone even tackled the guy at the bus door and the snatcher was on the ground again but he was first to get up and take off running. I know the amount of time where I knew what was going on must have been only a second but helping the girl hold on to the purse was probably all that was needed to make the guy give up. To act in that moment would have required a complete shift in my frame of mind. I never thought anyone would be stupid enough to snatch a purse with the bus security cameras going. Still when I play it back in my mind I feel shame. I felt there was enough time to do something. I won’t know if it really did happen that fast or if I just wasn’t fast enough to react. The crook had surprise as his advantage so also I wonder if he looked around the bus and saw a red beret, would he have thought twice just knowing that someone wouldn’t be surprised.

The Guardian Angels still exists and a quick visit to their website shows an almost comical picture of the familiar face of the Guardians, Curtis Sliwa, wearing a grey suit and tie but still wearing the raspberry beret. I saw that Curtis teaches seminars to kids about dealing with bullies and I wondered why this was never part of my education. The catholic school dogma of “turn the other cheek” only hurt me in the long run. No quick and easy answers here but seeing a 60 year old woman confidently walking with her red beret gave me some things to think about.

Important Events of the 80s

•In 1080 The idea of the magnetic compass is born in China.

•In 1180 Alexius II Comnenus becomes Byzantine Emperor.

•In 1280 Construction on the northern section of the Grand Canal of China is begun.

•In 1380 Sir William Walworth, a member of the Fishmongers Guild, becomes Lord Mayor of London for the second time.

•In 1480 Consorts and co-rulers Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile initiate the Spanish Inquisition.

•In 1580 Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe.

•In 1680 Pueblo Indians capture Santa Fe (New Mexico) from the Spanish.

•In 1780 American Revolutionary War – Battle of Camden: The British defeat the Americans near Camden, South Carolina.

•In 1880 Wabash, Indiana becomes the first electrically lighted city in the world.

•In 1980 Pac-Man (the best-selling arcade game of all time) is released.

San Francisco Moments 5 (x3)

These were all very short. If I had a camera I would have just taken pictures but I’m too to shy get in peoples faces with the camera. Maybe when I learn to shut of the noisy camera snapping sound from my Blackberry I can take them discretely.

1) On Super bowl Sunday I was walking on a side street downtown when I saw two clean cut young men, one pale white and one dark Hispanic who were the exact same height, with the exact same haircut and with the identical backpacks worn on their front each with an identical grey furred puppy sticking its head out the top.

2) On a street corner a standard brown haired women in a dark blue business suit was having a perfectly mundane conversation with a tall young man wearing baggy jeans with suspenders. His hair was bald except for short pentagonal orange tufts that made his head into a soccer ball pattern.

3) In front of me in the elevator today stood a six foot two woman with long magenta hair dressed all in black and sporting a large purse that included a big flap with a 5 by 5 grid of 3 inch long black rubber spikes. Standing next to her was a short Filipino woman and as the elevator became more crowed she was pushed closer and closer toward the rubber spikes and she clearly didn’t want to touch them.

Ah Luuuuv Me Some Podcasts

The first podcast I ever subscribed to turned me initially turned me off of the whole concept. It was an NPR podcast about music. First of all if I want to hear people talking about music, it has to be mind blowing conceptual stuff not covering a re-release of a Beatles anthology or a “where are they now” story about a new album from some mildly clever song writer that probably should have stayed retired. Usually I just let the music speak for itself; either I like it or I don’t. So not only was I not interested in their premise but they would dump another one I didn’t care about in my 4 gig mini every week.

I think the podcast that changed it for me was called “Berkeley Groks.”

:::tangent alert::: “Groks,” caught my eye because it was feature in Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” and it represented a Martian state of mind that, lightly translated, meant to understand but this was a very deep understanding and the more literal translation was “to drink.” It was the deep investigation of this fictional construct that inspired several folks in the 60s to try and make a religion out of the book. Heinlein, however, chose not to go the L. Ron Hubbard rout and tried to make it clear to everyone that it was just a story. :::tangent complete:::

So I listened to Berkeley Groks while doing some of the more mindless busy work. Simple premise: two guys at UC Berkeley read some science news, have a science interview, goof around a little and that’s it. What made a bit of a difference was this wasn’t science reporting from the mainstream media, these were two science guys. When one guy was reading the story, the other would understand the implications and ask just the right questions to make the story that much clearer. Then next really exciting feature happened one day when I had a question about something they covered so I emailed, asked and had an answer within the day. Many of these podcasts are have much smaller more targeted audiences so they end up being much more accessible. I saw the potential and used it to justify going from the 4 gig mini to a 30 gig video.

The Content Revolution

Another feature that sets podcasts apart from a radio (I’m mostly concerned with Audio podcasts at this point) they don’t have to answer to any company or sponsors. One reason it was really easy for me to forsake traditional radio, save npr perhaps, was the constant stream of offensive commercials; all the effort bells and whistles encouraging me to strap on my bib and go down to the new TGI Fridays to try their new battered stake melt or worse the patronizing commercials compelling me to vote for the next racists hate filled ballot proposition to take money away from any school program that isn’t an apple pie wonder bread Jesus kids’ baseball team (ok that may just be AM radio). A podcaster can start tomorrow with limited overhead and no experience and learn as they go. If I go back to archived versions of some of my favorite podcasts, they were once pretty bad but over time they learned their craft and eventually rose to higher ranks through the entertainment meritocracy. This is yet another branch of the internet changing entertainment; the means of distribution is now available to virtually anyone. Things that were separate industries: movies, tv, radio, magazines, newspapers and books are all now just variations of content and anyone can self produce and promote at any time. Now as a result of course there is a lot of garbage out there. Every few months or so I have to purge the podcasts that aren’t doing it for me and then go fishing for new ones to fill in the empty slots. Since there’s no more battle for air time, everyone can have a shot and there are always new ones popping up. Also a show can sustain itself with a much smaller audience so some idea that was kicked to the corner of a conventional news show, i.e. the Tech. Corner, can now exist on its own and target their own audience.

The Community

One of the first podcasts to really get me hooked, slice if sci-fi, does something I haven’t seen anywhere else. They created a separate show dedicated to listening to listener feedback on the regular show. The convention on many other shows is to have some time set aside for reading emails and playing voicemails but this is 30 minutes + of every voicemail that they can fit. This voicemail show grew a life of its own. Often it’s comments about the regular show but sometimes people go further to produce micro- sketches in the form of fake “what if” movie trailers or even small songs. I was reminded of the Alex Bennett morning show when I was growing up and some callers became re-occurring characters. This is much like that only many more people get a shot, plus its voicemail so you can pre-record and produce something rather than having to go live. You have option of emailing a sound file. So, the show has a loyal fan base that gets a chance to get into the act. I remember the despair I felt when the Alex Bennett show finally succumbed to the juvenile corporate idiot fest that was Howard Stern. The show was nationwide and it killed any local flavor. Well with the podcasts, they are actually international but as I said before the audience is targeted so instead of impersonal pre-programmed corporate radio, you can choose to become part of a community. Another cool thing with the new media is the conversation never has to stop. In the case of Slice of Sci-fi, they have the show and then the voicemail show but also both shows have a place on their website where you write comments. And for more in-depth discussions there’s another link to the forums where people can share, debate, and rant on any related subjects. The top-down authoritarian model of media is giving way to an egalitarian modular form and I have to say I like the way its going. I don’t need a giant corporation telling me what I want to see/hear/read. The new media has the chance to become a true meritocracy. Of course just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s of any artistic value but now even if something is popular and you don’t like it, something more suited to your tastes will be a few clicks away.

Some of my Favorites:
http://www.sliceofscifi.com/
http://www.dragonpage.com/
http://www.obscure80s.com/
http://www.theskepticsguide.org/
http://www.thenakedscientists.com/
http://escapepod.org/
http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/

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